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The Evolution of Graphene Batteries

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After years of academic development and talk about graphene in batteries, and other energy storage devices (such as supercapacitors), several commercial offerings on the market now target different end–use sectors. This is something that has manifested only within the last few years, and while the market might have been slow to get going, more and more products are hitting the market, and this trend has already continued into the first half of 2022.

The steady commercialization of graphene batteries

Over the years of commercial adoption, graphene has found a lot of use in lower–tech applications, with graphene clothing and textiles being one of the largest markets (in terms of number of commercial products) for graphene. It’s no secret that graphene has struggled to enter the higher–tech areas, despite its potential, but all of this has changed in the last two or three years.

Graphene has now found a lot of commercial interest in battery and energy storage technologies, and alongside biosensors and phone cooling systems (several Chinese phones now use graphene cooling systems), batteries have become one of the most commercialized high–tech applications for graphene.

When we talk about there being a growing market for graphene batteries, it needs to be noted that we’re talking about several commercial products — not hundreds — as it is still a relatively specialist technology area. The years from 2020 leading up to now have seen a few notable products hit the market. One of these was from the GAC Group: After years of testing and development, GAC finally created an electric vehicle (EV) battery that went into mass production in 2021 and is set to be used in its Aion V cars, which should hit the market later this year.

The commercialization of graphene batteries for commercial EVs is perhaps one of the biggest developments to date. But alongside this, Skeleton Technologies has been developing ultrafast–charging graphene batteries and supercapacitors using an interesting “crumpled” graphene material. The batteries are being developed still, but the target market is automotive, and its supercapacitors are already being used in some buses that run on hydrogen fuel cells.

Beyond this, another notable development was from Strategic Elements, which has been developing a flexible, self–charging battery ― using a graphene ink ― with the wearable medical and wearable tech market in mind. As of 2022, not much else has been heard on its flexible batteries, so it can be assumed that the company is still in the prototype stage, but it will likely come to the market (or another company will bring a similar product to the market), as there has been a lot of interest over the years in the wearable space for developing flexible batteries using graphene and other 2D materials.

2022 so far

Even though we’re not yet halfway through the year, there has already been a couple of interesting commercial developments wherein other companies (not the ones mentioned above) have brought new graphene battery products to the market.

Batteries for space

The first development came at the beginning of the year in January, when Californian battery manufacturer Lyten announced that it was working with the U.S. government to develop graphene batteries for the U.S Space Force. Prototypes have already been created for use in small satellites, but the EV market has been previously targeted as well, so more could be coming to fruition here.

Lyten’s next generation Li–S batteries for EVs (Source: Lyten) (Click image to enlarge)

Aside from the novel application, the interesting thing about these batteries is that they are lithium–sulfur (Li–S) batteries. Li–S batteries have long been touted for commercial use because of their high energy density, but the sulfur electrodes have often suffered from “polysulfide shuttling” ― a process whereby the sulfur ions leave the electrode, react, and form long–chain molecules, degrading the electrode and battery performance in the process.

Polysulfide shuttling has long been a barrier to the large–scale commercialization of Li–S batteries, but Lyten has used graphene layers (in a 3D morphology) to suppress the surface reactions in the electrodes. This drives the reactions toward Li2S molecules (instead of long–chain Li2S8 and Li2S6 molecules) being discharged from the cathode, leading to longer and more normal battery operations ― because Li2S molecules are what should be released from the cathode during cycles. It’s an interesting development that could help to facilitate a greater adoption of graphene–based batteries as well as Li–S batteries into high–value end–use markets.

Batteries from grid storage

The latest development in the graphene battery space has come from a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) startup called PolyJoule. These batteries are based on a standard two–electrode electrochemical cell and use a combination of conductive polymers and hybrid carbon–graphene materials.

These batteries have been touted for power grid applications — especially from intermittent renewable sources ― because they can rapidly discharge power (up to 1 MW) in less than 10 seconds to protect against voltage intermittency. They can also be recharged in less than five minutes to ensure that power is available when required. Unlike other batteries, the batteries don’t build up heat, thus not requiring any thermal management, and are inherently robust.

The technology is very new, and limited information is available now. Beyond power grids, they are being touted for general industrial energy storage and data center uninterruptible–power–supply applications. They’ve certainly been designed with the industrial market in mind, which is a new market to be explored for graphene–based batteries. It will be interesting to see if this market sector takes off and these batteries can be built on larger scales to cover the needs of the power grid and other industrial sectors.

Looking to the future

While none of us can predict what is going to happen, there’s a wide application scope for graphene batteries. As energy demands continue to increase within society — both on a small scale and in larger systems — there’s going to be a need for smaller and higher energy and higher density storage systems.

There’s likely to be a market going forward for graphene batteries, especially as we’re already seeing a range of products geared toward different applications and end–use markets, as well as some developments being in conjunction with government agencies. It’s unlikely to be hundreds, but they will likely fill a lot of gaps where traditional battery chemistries have struggled to be effective.

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